At a certain stage of growth, you will need to look at how you are doing your business – what are the processes involved and can they be more efficient to bring better growth or revenue to your business. Establishing your processes for the first time and identifying problems can be a daunting task, but it’s one that could bring an incredible reward too. Remember, it’s bigger than reviewing workflow.
Usually either transactional or transformational in nature, processes are cogs in a bigger machine that contribute to the success of your business. Your goal in doing this is to reduce cost and cycle time as well as increase the quality of output.
Possible outcomes of process improvement:
- Better collaboration between teams
- Increased visibility from management
To get started, first, you should identify the major processes, look for the functional areas that carry out business mandate. Work your way down from major processes to minor. Having employees map out their own processes might work well and save some time. Just make sure they map what the actual process is and not what the process should be. You don’t want to make changes until you’ve had the chance to see everything and how it’s connected.
Group the processes into buckets that make sense for your business e.g. transactional, operating, management, etc. Start with the core processes – those that cannot be reduced any further and that are necessary to your business. And ask yourself: Do the processes have an order? Are they time-based? Function based? Use flow charts and use cases to graphically represent the steps and be clear on what each process accomplishes. Don’t forget to include the time required for each step and what is needed to complete it. If a process step requires information to complete, where does this information come from? This can seem very messy when you start but sometimes using software that is specifically designed to document processes can reduce the clutter. You can try Visio or Lucidchart, although I’m sure there are many others.
Next, analyze your processes. Involving the people that work within the process can add valuable insight as you move through it. Note your inputs and outputs as you go and don’t forget to look at budgets and time spent for every step and process. Once a problem is identified you can brainstorm solutions (e.g. change of process, new process, removal of process, process automation). Be careful not to over process. Then review to make sure that the solution gives the outcomes and results you need. And always make sure that your processes clearly align with your company goals.
I found this HBR article, Reengineering Work: Don’t Automate, Obliterate, was an excellent read on how simply speeding up processes does not address any existing fundamental performance deficiencies your company may have. It’s an older article from 1990 so… keep that in mind. However, reading it may give your head a shake and help you look at any of your process issues in a different light.